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DAVENPORT, Iowa — Steven Garrison, out of work for more than a year after losing his job as a financial analyst, appreciated hearing GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney's pledge Monday to "get America working again."
Standing with his three young songs, Garrison called Romney's early morning speech at the Mississippi Valley Fair grounds "very timely. It was very poignant. … I think he can create the climate where people like me no longer run into roadblocks."
The family traveled more than an hour from Burlington for the chance to catch Romney's first stop on a more than 700-mile bus tour of the state on the final day before Tuesday's caucus votes.
Romney will hold a final rally Tuesday morning at the Temple for Performing Arts in downtown Des Moines and is holding what supporters hope will be a victory party at the nearby Hotel Fort Des Moines.
Garrison said he's wanted to see Romney in the White House ever since visiting Salt Lake City in 2002 and seeing firsthand Romney's success in turning around the troubled Winter Olympics.
Whether he was a member of our church, a Baptist, a Muslim, I wouldn't care. His resume won me over.
Although the family shares Romney's Mormon faith, Garrison said it's Romney's experience, not his religion, that earned his vote.
"Whether he was a member of our church, a Baptist, a Muslim, I wouldn't care," Garrison said. "His resume won me over."
Romney told the several hundred people gathered in a hall located on the Davenport fairgroundsl that unemployment "is a traumatic experience … people sometimes lose their faith and become depressed."
He said the county hasn't "had a presidency with so many jobs lost" since Herbert Hoover and laid out his plan to create jobs by cutting spending, eliminating government regulations, developing energy resources and getting tough on trading partners like China.
The crowd in the politically moderate Quad Cities area also heard from South Dakota Sen. John Thune, who said President Barack Obama may have inherited a bad economy but "his policies have made matters worse, much worse."
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, is also participating in the day-long tour, which saw both the size of the crowds and the level of enthusiasm for Romney increase at each of the four stops.
We feel pretty confident. I can't predict where Mitt Romney will finish but I can predict that at the end of the day, he'll be the Republican nominee.
Iowa's caucus vote Tuesday is, in effect, only a preference poll. Iowa's Republicans won't actually elect delegates to the party's national convention until they hold their state convention later this year.
But the caucus vote is closely watched as the nation's first test of presidential contenders and often weeds out the weakest candidates. Polls suggest the race is now between Romney, Texas Rep. Ron Paul and former Pennsylvania Gov. Rick Santorum.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich continues to lose support, according to the polls, while Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and Texas Gov. Rick Perry are trailing far behind the frontrunners.
The other candidate in the race with Utah ties, former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., is skipping the caucus vote to focus on the next presidential contest, New Hampshire's Jan. 10 primary.
Romney's campaign has been careful throughout the 2012 nomination race to temper expectations in Iowa and Monday was no exception.
"We feel pretty confident," Romney senior advisor Eric Fehrnstrom said. "I can't predict where Mitt Romney will finish but I can predict that at the end of the day, he'll be the Republican nominee."
Fehrnstrom said he was confident saying Romney will be on the November ballot because the primary process "is not just one single contest" but a series of races that won't end until Utah Republicans vote in late June. "We have the strongest organization that will enable Mitt Romney to go that long distance."
Romney created a stir during his third stop of the day, at an asphalt company garage in the Cedar Rapids suburb of Marion, by telling the crowd, "We're going to win this thing with all of our passion and strength."
He said his team also would "do everything we can to get this campaign on the right track to go across the nation and to pick up other states, and to get the ballots I need, the votes I need, to become the nominee."
A Romney campaign aide quickly told reporters on background that the former Massachusetts governor was referring to the GOP presidential nomination, not the Iowa caucus.
At Romney's stop in Marion, a town near Cedar Rapids, Diana Borash of West Branch said she and her husband, Daniel, decided last week Romney was their choice.
Four years ago, Borash cast her caucus vote for a Democrat, Hillary Clinton, and then voted in the general election for Obama. Since then, she's left the party, saying it has veered too far left.
"Obama has turned America into a country I don't recognize today," the retired 911 dispatch center director said. Borash said she sees Romney as a moderate Republican, offers "the perfect balance" to fix the nation's economic wrongs.
At an earlier campaign stop at a paper warehouse in Dubuque, Rick Hoffman said he still weren't sure he would vote for Romney on Tuesday.
Hoffman said he was still considering supporting Paul. "He has more likeability," he said. But he wasn't sure Paul could go on to win the nomination and the presidency. "That's the whole issue," Hoffman said.
The campaign rolled to a stop around 10 p.m., at a promotional materials warehouse stocked with piles of printed t-shirts and other items located in the upscale Des Moines suburb of Clive.
Among the hundreds filling the huge space was Lee Stine, who planned to deliver a speech for Romney at is Beaverdale caucus meeting. Stine had intended to vote for Bachmann until about a month ago, "when I decided she wasn't going to make it."
Stine said he had liked Bachmann's Iowa background but questioned her ability to run the country as her campaign fell into disarray. Stine said he believes Romney will emerge as the top vote-getter Tuesday. "He's on a roll," Stine said.
Even as late as Monday evening, some voters had not yet made up their minds.
"I don't know much about him," said Karen Jobst of Waukee, who attended Romney's last rally of the day. Jobst said the only candidate she's ruled out supporting at her caucus is Paul. "I don't like the way he comes off," she said.
Still, the warehouse audience erupted into chants of "Mitt, Mitt, Mitt," when Romney started to speak, laughed at his often well-worn jokes, and applauded his criticisms of Obama. They cheered when Romney talked of Obama's first term as his last.
Dozens of television cameras, some from overseas news crews, focused on Romney's speech in front of a giant banner emblazoned with his campaign slogan, "Believe in America."
Even hecklers didn't appear to affect the crowd's excitement.
When several people scattered throughot the warehouse shouted taunts, including "get a job," others at the rally drowned them out by repeating chants of, "Mitt, Mitt, Mitt." Romney smiled and said it was great to live in a country where people could express their opinions.
"Let's get the nomination," Romney said. "Let's become the next president of the United States."
A Romney volunteer said the hecklers were believed to part of the national occupy protest movement, which had threatened to disrupt the caucuses.
Romney's son, Josh, said his father handled the situation well.
"I think he's ready for anything," Josh Romney said. "I don't think he missed a beat."